Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Business

Calendar, weather put a damper on Fourth of July fireworks sales in Tampa Bay area

Fourth of July fireworks sales could prove more of a dud than a bang thanks to the calendar and Mother Nature.

Pyrotechnic vendors burst into a collective groan whenever the holiday falls midweek, rather than near a weekend when many people are off work.

"It's a known fact. Wednesday is the worst day for us," said Elizabeth Musselwhite, co-editor of the monthly American Fireworks News. "People still have parties. They just won't do as much on the actual day."

Then, about 10 days before the holiday, a second punch to the $1 billion industry: Tropical Storm Debby struck, washing out local advance sales.

"I think everyone was affected by the storm," said Sharon Hunnewell-Johnson, president of Galaxy Fireworks, which has tents across the region and a year-round store in Tampa. "July third and fourth are the busiest days for buying fireworks, but a lot of people plan ahead and start firing them off early."

The storm knocked down four Galaxy tents in the Tampa Bay area and forced many others to close for a few days. Employees had to restock and reorganize tents. Fireworks that got wet were ruined.

Sky Candy Fireworks' seasonal retail site in Brandon suffered no damage from the rain. Sales, however, were slower over the weekend.

"In the middle of the week, I'm sure it's tough for people to take a lot of time off,'' said Jim Nyers, who owns Sky Candy with Steve Traczyk. "A lot of people have to work the next day.''

The company anticipated a decrease in sales and ordered 20 percent less on some items. But they remained hopeful that people would shop last minute and expected celebrations would spill over the weekend if the rain stays away.

Fireworks sales in other parts of the country also have taken a hit but for opposite reasons: hot weather and dry conditions.

In June, Colorado's governor banned the private use of fireworks in response to deadly wildfires that burned hundreds of homes. Many cities canceled their firework shows in favor of live music and other, less combustible, activities.

In the Midwest, record temperatures, brush fires and drought conditions prompted similar bans in much of Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri.

Any dip in sales would be slight compared with the explosive growth the U.S. industry has experienced during the past 15 years. Revenue from display and consumer fireworks increased from $610 million in 2000 to $967 million in 2011. The weight of fireworks sold jumped from 153 million pounds in 2000 to 234 million pounds in 2011.

"Not only has this industry survived in this tough economy, we're thriving," said Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association.

She attributes the success to a surge in patriotism after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, an increase in family "staycations" and a liberalization of fireworks laws. Many governments relaxed rules to boost tax revenue. Only four states prohibit consumer fireworks: Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.

Tim Edney, a manager of Phantom Fireworks in Tampa, has seen a steady climb in business, regardless of last week's washout. A Wednesday holiday isn't ideal, he said, but it might mean more people will stay home and celebrate.

And there's always next year to look forward to. In 2013, Independence Day falls on a Thursday, one day closer to the weekend.

Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110.

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